An anti-Kremlin group involved in border raids is led by a neo-Nazi

A group of militias aligned with Ukraine took part in the most intense fighting inside Russia’s borders earlier this week, prompting foreign and local journalists to gather at an undisclosed location on Wednesday to celebrate, taunt the Kremlin, and show what. They called them “Military Trophies” since they invaded their native land: Russia.

Their leader, Denis Kapustin, at one point boasted that his force of anti-Putin Russians controlled, he said, 42 square kilometers, or 16 square miles, of Russian territory.

“I want to prove that it is possible to fight against a tyrant,” he said. “Putin’s power is not unlimited, the security services can beat, restrain and torture unarmed people. But when they encounter fully armed resistance, they flee.

It was the rhetoric of a disgruntled freedom fighter, but there was an ironic note that stood out as clearly as a neo-Nazi black sun patch on one of the soldiers’ uniform: Mr. Kapustin and key members of the armed group he leads, the Russian Volunteer Force, openly support far-right views. Indeed, German authorities and humanitarian groups, including the Anti-Defamation LeagueMr. Kapustin has been identified as a neo-Nazi.

Mr. Kapustin, who has long used the alias Denis Nikitin but usually goes by his military call sign White Rex, is a Russian citizen who immigrated to Germany in the early 2000s. He associated with a group of violent football fans and later became “one of the most influential activists”. A neo-Nazi splinter group in the mixed-martial-arts sceneOfficials from Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state said.

Mr. Kapustin is said to have been Banned from entering Europe’s visa-free, 27-country Schengen zone, but he said only that Germany had revoked his residency permit.

The fact that the group has drawn attention for its activism and renewed ties to the group with neo-Nazis is an ominous development for the Ukrainian government, particularly as Russian President Vladimir V. Putin justified his invasion on the false claim of fighting Neo. -A common theme of Nazis and Kremlin propaganda.

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Most anti-Russian groups have long-term political aspirations to return home and overthrow the Russian and Belarusian governments.

“The Russian volunteer force marches in and destroys the current government – that’s the only way,” said Mr. Kapustin said earlier this year. “You cannot force a tyrant to leave, any other power would be considered invaders.”

Members of the Free Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps pose for journalists at a news conference in northern Ukraine this week.debt…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

In fact, far-right groups in Ukraine are a minority, and Ukraine has denied any involvement in the Russian Volunteer Force or any role in fighting on Russian borders. But Mr. Kapustin said his team “definitely got a lot of encouragement” from the Ukrainian authorities.

Some on Russia’s far-right, particularly Mr. Trump, have been criticized for his jailing of many nationalists, his policies on immigration and what he sees as giving too much power to minorities such as the Chechens. Since the 2014 Maidan revolution and the start of war between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region, many of them have made a home in Ukraine and now fight on the side of their adopted country.

The Russian Volunteer Corps, also known by its Russian initials RDK, was one of two groups of anti-Russian militants who carried out a cross-border attack in southern Russia’s Belgorod region on Monday.

The groups say the purpose of the incursions is to force Moscow to redeploy troops from occupied parts of Ukraine to protect its borders, a goal aligned with the Ukrainian military’s broader aims to expand its defenses in the face of a Ukrainian counterattack.

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The Russian Volunteer Force also claimed responsibility for two incidents in the Russian border region of Bryansk in March and April.

The second group is the Free Russia Legion, operating under the umbrella of the International Legion of Ukraine, which includes American and British volunteers, as well as Belarusians, Georgians and others. It is overseen by the Armed Forces of Ukraine and commanded by Ukrainian authorities.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Mr. Kapustin confirmed that his group was not controlled by the Ukrainian military, but said the military “wished the fighters all the best”. He said there was “nothing but encouragement” from the Ukrainian side.

“Everything we do, every decision we make, what we do beyond state borders is our own decision. We can ask our comrades and friends for help in planning openly,” he continued. “They’ll say ‘yes, no,’ and that’s kind of the encouragement, the help I’m talking about.” That claim could not be independently verified.

Andriy Chernyak, a representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, supported Kyiv’s decision to allow the group to fight on its behalf.

“Ukraine definitely supports everyone who is ready to fight Putin’s regime,” he added: “People came to Ukraine and said they want to help us fight Putin’s regime, so of course we let them. People from foreign countries.”

Ukraine called the incursions an “internal Russian crisis” because the group’s members were Russian.

Some analysts dismissed the RDK’s importance as a fighting force, even as they warned of the dangers they posed. Michael Colborne, a researcher at Bellingcat who reports on the international far right, said he hesitates to even call the Russian Volunteer Force a military unit.

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“They’re mostly a far-right group of neo-Nazi exiles who make these incursions into Russian-controlled territory, who are more concerned with creating social media content than anything else,” Mr. Colborne said.

Andriy Chernyak, a representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said, “Ukraine certainly supports all those who are ready to fight against Putin’s regime.debt…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Some other members of the RDK, who were photographed during the border raid, also openly espoused neo-Nazi views. In 2020, a man named Alexander Skachkov was arrested by Ukrainian security services for selling a Russian translation of the white supremacist manifesto of the Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter who killed 51 mosque worshipers in 2019. A month in jail.

Another member, Alexei Levkin, who filmed a selfie video wearing the RDK logo, is a group founder. Votanjugent It started in Russia, but then moved to Ukraine. Mr. Levkin organizes the “National Socialist Black Metal Festival”, which began in Moscow in 2012, but was held in Kyiv from 2014 to 2019.

Pictures posted online by the militants earlier this week showed them posing in front of captured Russian equipment, some wearing Nazi-style patches and equipment. One patch depicted a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr. Images of Kapustin and his militia could damage Ukraine’s security by alerting allies who support far-right armed groups, Mr. Colborne said.

“I worry that something like this could backfire on Ukraine, because these are not inconspicuous people,” he said. “These are not unknown people, they are not helping Ukraine in any practical sense.”

Mr. Kapustin, who speaks Russian and is fluent in English and German, told reporters that he did not think the so-called “extreme right” was an “accusation”.

“We never hide our views,” he said. “We are a right-wing, conservative, military, semi-political organization,” he said.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Andrew E. Kramer And Oleg Matsnev Contributed report.

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